Personal Life Tech

Apple Thunderbolt Display: as overpriced as we think?

I’m in the market for a 13″ MacBook Pro over the next month or so. I love the idea of it’s portability, but I’m not sure I could work directly off it every day at my desk. Which brings me to looking for a monitor.

I’m currently using a 27″ non-thunderbolt Cinema Display (which I’ll have to be returning soon), and really enjoy the features of it. So I’d like to continue to have something similar. Here are some of the things I like about the Apple Displays:

  • 2560 x 1440 resolution or better
  • 27″ or better
  • Webcam
  • Speakers
  • 2 plug dock; Thunderbolt and power. (more of a want than need)

I’ve been shopping around, and there are a few monitors that meet some of these parameters.

Dell UltraSharp 27″ (U2713H)

Picture of Dell UltraSharp U2713H-1 Monitor

At first I looked at Dell. The UltraSharp 27″ is comparable to the Apple Display, having 2560 x 1440 resolution with a fairly decent looking case. It has DisplayPort, so I can plug right into ThunderBolt (only carrying display bits). This is a little hard to swallow with a hefty $713 price tag, and this is pretty close to the $999 price of the Apple Cinema.

27″ IPS-Glass Panel Pro LED Monitor #10489

picture of Monoprice 27" IPS-Glass Panel Pro LED Monitor

The next option was much more affordable, coming in at $460 (BTW, thanks to LifeHacker for the recommendation). This monitor also has the great 2560 x 1440 resolution as well as DisplayPort option. A big plus is built in speakers (I’m sure the sound quality isn’t the greatest, but I’m sure it’s better than the speakers in the MacBook Pro). I’m disappointed they didn’t add a webcam (even if its a cheap one) after adding built in speakers.

Apple Thunderbolt Display

Picture of Apple Thunderbolt Display

And now we come to the Apple Thunderbolt display. At $999 (certified refurb $800), this seems like a pretty expensive display on the surface, but let’s break down what it has that other displays don’t:


And a pretty good one at that. No need to go buy a separate accessory that will clutter up your desktop, and possibly add another plug to your docking/undocking procedure if you don’t opt for a thunderbolt docking solution.


Again, probably not as good as true desktop speakers, but they don’t take any room up on your desk, and don’t clutter up your overall setup.

Thunderbolt Dock

This is very convenient, especially if you are taking your computer on and off your desk a lot. Not a need, but very convenient.

Apple Quality/AppleCare

I’m not sure how much of this is in my head, but I feel like this will just be a better built monitor in general. I shouldn’t ever have to worry about something stupid breaking on it, and if it does, it’s covered under the 3 year AppleCare Protection Plan I’ll get with my laptop.

Is the Apple Thunderbolt Display really that expensive then?

To get a third party monitor to feature parody of a Thunderbolt Display, You’d have to get:

  • Thunderbolt docking solution, $170 from Amazon.
  • Speakers, let’s call it around $50; Pick your poison.
  • Webcam, and for something that’s decent will be around $50 (Amazon Webcams).
  • MagSafe Power supply $80.

How does this compare to a decked out third-party monitor? You’ll essentially need to add $350 to any of the other monitors:

  • Dell with proper accessories: $713 + $350 = $1063
  • Monoprice with proper accessories: $460 + $350 = $810
  • Apple Thunderbolt $999 ($800 refurb, $950 edu)

“But the Thunderbolt Display is so old. I’ll wait for the new one.”

Although the Apple Thunderbolt display was released in September 2011, a rev of this hardware probably won’t happen anytime soon. Rene Ritche at explains it best:

The simple answer is that there’s no port that can properly drive 5K yet. The current Thunderbolt 2 ports on the Mac Pro and MacBook Pro use DisplayPort 1.2 and max out at 4K. To drive 5K, we’ll need Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort 1.3. That’s coming with Intel’s Skylake platform… which is coming after Intel’s Broadwell platform… which is coming… eventually.

If you really want 5k now, get a 5k iMac. Because Apple controls the interface between the iMac’s logic board and display, they can connect it however they want. They don’t need to use the Thunderbolt interface internally.

One thing that bugs me a bit is the older connections. None of these are deal breakers, but just annoying.

  1. Firewire 800: So I just don’t use it. NBD.
  2. USB 2.0: Would sure be nice if it had 3.0.
  3. MagSafe 1: You have to buy a $10 MagSafe to MagSafe 2 adapter Turns out it comes in the box. More annoying than anything Still annoying it has to be there.

Bottom line

If those $800 refurbished Thunderbolt Displays ever get back in stock, I’m getting that. I had thought about the Monoprice monitor, but again with all of the value-adds of a Thunderbolt display, it doesn’t seem like such a steal anymore.

Update: Refurb came online last night. I will be here sometime next week! There is still one there as of Saturday morning.

By Ryan Tvenge

I'm a web developer and co-owner of Hoverboard that makes cool stuff on the web.

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